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Philadelphia’s top teacher again from Bodine High

Call it the Triple Crown, an unlikely trifecta from a Philadelphia magnet school that's quietly built a reputation for top-notch education.

Call it the Triple Crown, an unlikely trifecta from a Philadelphia magnet school that's quietly built a reputation for top-notch education.

For the third year in a row, Bodine High School for International Affairs has produced the district's top teacher.

Eleven finalists were culled from 265 teachers who'd been recommended by their principals. From that group, a panel of district staff chose Bodine technology and business educator Aaron Greberman - described by his principal as "a quintessential renaissance teacher" - for the Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Teacher of the Year award.

Greberman, who turned to teaching as a second career, said he believes that "the best skill that I have as a teacher is the fact that I care. Even about the students who have attitude - that just means they need extra help. If you're genuine, kids pick up on that."

He credits Bodine's principal, Ann Gardiner, with setting high standards that encourage both students and teachers to shine.

Turning in lesson plans is not enough for her, he said - "they have to be great lesson plans."

Francisco Duran, the regional superintendent who oversees Bodine, in Northern Liberties, calls the school "a jewel. It's got a real neighborhood feel, and I really like that aspect. It's very different than the other special admit high schools."

Bodine opened in 1981, a 500-student magnet school partnered with the World Affairs Council. Courses are infused with a world-relations focus; it also offers rigorous International Baccalaureate classes.

In her five years as principal, Gardiner has made it her goal "to put the school on the map," she said.

She has.

"This is a place where students who wouldn't flourish elsewhere because of tension and competition . . . they flourish," said Gardiner. "We're very happy with the opportunities that we give students."

The school is diverse both socioeconomically and racially. Fifty-five percent of students are African American, 19 percent are Latino, 15 percent are white, and 11 percent are Asian. As a magnet school, it draws students from around the city who must meet rigorous academic criteria to apply.

In 2008, Bodine English teacher Gina Hart was the district's top teacher. Last year, math teacher Brian Malloy won. This school year, Bodine was named a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School, primarily for its success in giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds top academic opportunities.

The school also performs well on state tests. Last year, 89 percent of students read on grade level and 84 percent reached that standard in math.

Despite it being the last week of school, this year's winner was still engaging 11th graders in meaningful learning on Monday. The topic was insurance, and the discussion was lively.

Greberman, 43, who grew up in Lafayette Hill and attended Penn Charter, never intended to be a teacher. He worked for several years as a mediator for the Better Business Bureau before getting into technology recruiting.

He found the business side of the work distasteful but the technology side fascinating. When Greberman got laid off and saw an ad for a program that gave businesspeople who had lost their jobs a chance to earn a free master's degree in computer science education, he jumped.

His first job, in 1998, was as a technology teacher at Wister Elementary in Germantown. The neighborhood was rough, but he didn't care - he fell in love with the kids, and they fell in love with him.

In 2003, Greberman moved to Bodine, where he initiated a program that sends students to Africa to build a school. He also coaches boys' tennis and girls' volleyball, and sits on a panel of teachers that takes on school leadership tasks.

He varies his teaching style so pupils don't get bored. He incorporates students' ideas into his lesson plans and infuses them with real-world examples. And he will not hesitate to call a parent when a student acts up.

Greberman feels he has found his calling.

"The year goes very fast," he said. "Four years goes very fast."

Greberman is good, Gardiner said, "because he does go for that critical thinking element that the great teachers always go for. He also requires that the students write a great deal, and we know that no one is truly educated until they can produce a good piece of text."

He admits he's an "English teacher in disguise," and spends summers teaching district elementary school students English and math.

"There's something about getting my hands dirty with the chalk, doing projects with scissors and glue. It keeps my high school skills sharp," he said.

Greberman, who received a $1,500 stipend at the ceremony Tuesday evening, was one of several recognized.

Conwell Middle School principal Edward Hoffman won the Marcus A. Foster Award, a $2,500 prize honoring a top administrator.

The Leon J. Obermayer Award for a distinguished graduate of the district went to District Attorney Seth Williams.

Students Hassan Jamal Yusuf of West Philadelphia High and Michael Terrill Wearen of Benjamin Franklin High were awarded the De Lone Family and Children Scholarships as excellent students who have contributed to their communities and have financial need.

Yusuf won a $4,800 scholarship; Wearen won $1,000. Both are headed to Penn State.